Wednesday, 6 November 2019

OPERA REVIEW: La Boheme - The Theatre Royal, Nottingham

Puccini’s evergreen tale of young love blighted by poverty and disease has some claim to be the most popular opera ever composed. It is many peoples’ ‘entry level’ opera, a safe bet for dipping your toe in water whose deep end is populated by the likes of Wagner, Richard Strauss, as well as the even more formidable Handel and Martinu (creators of the two companion works in ON’s autumn season). Boheme’s success is entirely deserved and totally explicable: Giacosa and Illica’s libretto is so well constructed and the composer’s melodies so stirring and emotive that even an average production can hit home.

Phyllida Lloyd’s twenty year old production, revived here by Michael Barker-Caven is considerably more than average, though its age is beginning to show. Transferring the Bohemians from late nineteenth century Paris to a locational limbo that might be anywhere between the mid-sixties and the present-day (with intrusions from yer actual nineteenth century proper during the Cafe Momus scene that comprises Act Two) might not have been an especially original idea even back in 1999. Today, it looks somewhat predictable; though there are some nice touches - notably, the way Marcello’s fixation on Musetta manifests itself in multiple Andy Warhol-like prints in Act Four. The jumble of styles is best represented by the afrorementioned Act 2, where choreographer Lauren Poulton deserves credit for holding together several different strands of action that in less capable hands might have looked messy.

La Boheme is famously the opera of youth (those familiar with its late twentieth century offspring the musical Rent get a surprise when they encounter the original) - more accurately, of carefree youth coming to terms with the pains and responsibilities of adulthood. Appropriately, this production features young singers in the principal roles: and while it’s easy to appreciate the vigour and verisimilitude they bring to the drama, vocally this is something of a mixed blessing. Thomas Atkins as Rodolfo has the necessary purity of tone but is sometimes lost in the orchestral tuttis, a problem not shared by Yurij Yurchuk, whose solid baritone cuts through the textures with precision. Kate Bird is an affecting Mimi and Samantha Clarke as her antipode the mercenary Musetta makes the most of a role that is often show-stealing.

Renato Balsadonna’s years of experience at Covent Garden as both Chorus Director and Italian Repertory Conductor tell in his handling of the score and the Opera North orchestra respond with aplomb.

Reviewer - Richard Ely
on - 5/11/19

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